Housing a nation, constructing an identity: how Emiratis built their own homes


In the summer of 1974, the architect Wolfgang Braun boarded a Boeing 707 alongside his business partner and fellow architect Peter Säckl, an engineer called Juergen Monnerjahn and a small, carefully selected construction team that included a mason, a concrete specialist and an electrical engineer.

The men, all from the Federal Republic of Germany, were headed for the recently federated United Arab Emirates at the invitation of its founding president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who had asked them to build a prototype house in the desert near the oasis town of Al Ain.

It was not the first time the ruler of Abu Dhabi had worked with foreign architects or had experimented with concepts for a new type of model housing. Ever since he assumed power in 1966, Sheikh Zayed had employed international designers and consultants including Arabicon’s John Elliot, who arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1967, to design public housing as a self-conscious act of nation building and as a means of settling the nomadic Bedouin and increasing the emirate’s population.

In 1968, “anyone who called themselves an Abu Dhabian or said they were from Bani Yas was asked to turn up in Al Ain,” Elliott told the architect Ann Wimsatt in The National in 2010.

“If they were accepted they received the princely sum of £1,000 in Marie Theresa silver thalers, the common currency at the time, and were promised a national house.”

For the rest of this story, visit The National

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